best athletes The Best Athletes of All Time  

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List Rules Open to all amateur or professional athletes in any sport

The greatest athletes of all time: a list of the most dominant, iconic athletes to ever play sports. This list gathers sports stars from across every professional league, as well as amateur athletes who may have never competed professionally, in one overall list. Though it may be challenging to compare performance in a variety of different competitive arenas requiring different skill sets, this list nevertheless attempts to distinguish the top, highest-performing and most successful athletes ever to play. The sports stars that rise to the top can be considered to be the best athletes of all time.

Aspects to consider in picking a best athlete of all time would include, obviously, that player's raw talent and born ability. Some individuals seem to prodigally gifted in their sport of choice, and it's hard to discount the importance of this kind of natural talent. However, it's also important to evaluate hard work, discipline and a commitment to the game. Some athletes may not have the natural, genetic ability to dunk a basketball or hit a home run, but nonetheless have trained to the point of reaching these goals all the same. (They may not be the greatest athlete of all time at all sports, but they have mastered their activity.)

Finally, it can be a challenge to compare an athlete who competed in a solo competition with a member of a well known sports organization or club. How do you look at the achievements of, say, a boxer like Muhammad Ali alongside an athlete like Michael Jordan, who had to not only perform to his own best abilities but work as a cohesive unit along with other members of his team? These are the questions that must be answered when compiling a list of the world's greatest all-time athletes.

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1
+ - 26,420 13,271
Michael Jordan is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Jordan New York City, New York, United States of America

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2
+ - 25,796 13,139
Muhammad Ali is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Muhammad Ali Louisville, Kentucky, United States of America

3
+ - 16,700 12,445
Wayne Gretzky is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wayne Gretzky Brantford, Canada

4
+ - 23,130 11,831
Michael Phelps is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Phelps Towson, Baltimore, Maryland

5
+ - 14,461 13,249
Julius Erving is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Julius Erving "Dr J" Roosevelt, New York, United States of America

6
+ - 15,025 12,329
Pelé is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pelé Três Corações, Brazil

7
+ - 22,527 10,893
Babe Ruth is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Babe Ruth Pigtown, Baltimore, Maryland

8
+ - 20,916 13,441
Joe Montana is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe Montana New Eagle, Pennsylvania, United States of America

9
+ - 12,299 12,430
Paolo Maldini is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paolo Maldini Milan, Italy

10
+ - 22,572 12,182
LeBron James is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
LeBron James Akron, Ohio, United States of America

11
+ - 25,942 12,831
Lionel Messi is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lionel Messi Rosario, Argentina

12
+ - 21,139 12,935
Roger Federer is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Roger Federer Basel, Switzerland

13
+ - 15,879 11,389
Usain Bolt is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Usain Bolt Sherwood Content, Jamaica

14
+ - 13,684 11,625
Pete Sampras is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Sampras Potomac, Maryland, United States of America

15
+ - 14,312 12,013
Steffi Graf is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Steffi Graf Mannheim, Germany

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16
+ - 10,039 11,034
John McEnroe is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
John McEnroe Wiesbaden, Germany

17
+ - 9,998 10,999
Marco van Basten is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Marco van Basten Utrecht, Netherlands

18
+ - 12,964 11,439
Lorenzo Bernardi is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Lorenzo Bernardi Trento, Italy

19
+ - 13,371 11,539
Ruud Gullit is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ruud Gullit Amsterdam, Netherlands

20
+ - 13,252 11,345
Alexander Karelin is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Alexander Karelin Novosibirsk, Russia

21
+ - 13,062 11,276
Eddy Merckx is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Eddy Merckx Tielt-Winge, Belgium

22
+ - 13,138 11,096
Ingemar Stenmark is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Ingemar Stenmark Joesjö, Sweden

23
+ - 13,104 11,171
Sergei Bubka is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sergei Bubka Luhansk, Ukraine

24
+ - 12,776 10,836
Garrincha is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Garrincha Magé, Brazil

25
+ - 12,825 10,889
Kaká is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Kaká Gama, Federal District, Brazil

26
+ - 13,261 10,182
Jack Nicklaus is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jack Nicklaus Upper Arlington, Ohio, United States of America

27
+ - 12,815 10,673
Johan Cruijff is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Johan Cruijff Amsterdam, Netherlands

28
+ - 13,047 10,811
Michael Schumacher is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Michael Schumacher Hürth, Germany

29
+ - 12,988 10,976
Paavo Nurmi is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paavo Nurmi Grand Duchy of Finland, Russian Empire

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30
+ - 9,474 10,484
Franco Baresi is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franco Baresi Travagliato, Italy

31
+ - 12,826 10,772
Paula Radcliffe is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paula Radcliffe Davenham, United Kingdom

32
+ - 12,623 10,571
Rod Laver is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Rod Laver Rockhampton, Australia

33
+ - 12,378 10,550
George Weah is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
George Weah Monrovia, Liberia

34
+ - 12,750 9,939
Sugar Ray Leonard is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Sugar Ray Leonard Rocky Mount, North Carolina, United States of America

35
+ - 12,466 10,455
Nadia Comăneci is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Nadia Comăneci Onești, Romania

36
+ - 13,005 9,968
Jesse Owens is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Jesse Owens Oakville, Alabama, United States of America

37
+ - 12,651 10,497
Franz Beckenbauer is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Franz Beckenbauer Munich, Germany

38
+ - 13,022 10,050
Wilt Chamberlain is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Wilt Chamberlain Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

39
+ - 12,415 10,451
Andriy Shevchenko is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Andriy Shevchenko Dvirkivschyna, Ukraine

40
+ - 11,938 10,204
Zico is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Zico Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

41
+ - 12,368 10,345
Yelena Isinbayeva is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Yelena Isinbayeva Volgograd, Russia

42
+ - 12,528 10,396
Stefan Edberg is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Stefan Edberg Västervik, Sweden

43
+ - 12,169 9,855
Pete Maravich is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pete Maravich Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, United States of America

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44
+ - 12,114 10,216
Djalma Santos is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Djalma Santos Brazil

45
+ - 12,381 10,377
Emil Zátopek is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Emil Zátopek Kopřivnice, Czech Republic

46
+ - 11,591 10,137
Paulo Roberto Falcão is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Paulo Roberto Falcão Abelardo Luz, Brazil

47
+ - 11,397 10,209
Pietro Mennea is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Pietro Mennea Barletta, Italy

48
+ - 12,684 9,954
Serena Williams is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Serena Williams Saginaw, Michigan, United States of America

49
+ - 12,479 10,281
Annika Sörenstam is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Annika Sörenstam Bro, Sweden, Sweden

50
+ - 12,410 9,803
Joe DiMaggio is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Best Athletes of All Time
Joe DiMaggio Martinez, California, United States of America